Maris, Albert Branson

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Albert Branson Maris, a federal judge for fifty years, brought his quiet, scholarly leadership to the 1947 and 1948 recodifications of the U.S. Criminal and Judicial Codes. Because of his ongoing commitment to the revision and modernization of civil, criminal, bankruptcy, and judicial codes, Maris is often called the father of modernized judicial procedure in the United States. He not only helped to shape federal jurisprudence in this country but also was instrumental in the development of the laws and judicial systems of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Maris was born in Philadelphia on December 19, 1893. Descendants of Quaker colonists, Maris and his family were also members of the Society of Friends. Maris studied at the Friends Select School, and later the Westtown School, attended by his father and grandfather.

Mindful of his responsibility to his widowed mother and younger siblings, Maris made no plans to attend college after graduating from Westtown. He enrolled in a business course offered by a Scranton, Pennsylvania, correspondence school and entered the workforce as a clerk for an insurance company. He then took night courses at Temple University, passed the college entrance exam, and went on to study law.

Maris received his law degree from Temple University Law School—and married Edith Robinson on the same day—in 1917. The escalation of world war i delayed the practice of law for Maris. He served in an Army artillery unit as an enlisted man and later became an officer.

After the war, Maris entered private practice near Philadelphia. He also returned to school and earned a diploma from Drexel University Engineering School in 1926. He served as auditor of

the borough of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, from 1928 to 1934 and as councilman of the borough of Yeadon, Pennsylvania, from 1935 to 1936. After eighteen years of private practice and community service, Maris was appointed U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President franklin d. roosevelt on June 22, 1936. Two years later, he was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which handles appeals of federal cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands.

Maris's decisions were rarely appealed and almost never overturned. Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 108 F.2d 683 (3d Cir. 1939), was among the few cases in which his ruling was challenged. In 1938, the children of William Gobitis and Lily Gobitis were expelled from school for refusing, on religious grounds, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Gobitises filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that local regulations enforcing recitation of the pledge violated their first amendment rights. Maris declared the school district's regulations unconstitutional. But when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices overruled Maris by an 8–1 vote. An opportunity to challenge the Gobitis ruling eventually made its way through the courts when two sisters faced a similar issue in West Virginia (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 63 S. Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628 [1943]). When that case reached the Supreme Court, two justices who had participated in the Gobitis decision were now retired. With two new justices, the High Court reversed itself, ruling as Maris had in the Gobitis case.

In addition to his Third Circuit duties, Maris served on the temporary emergency court of appeals during world war ii and the postwar years. (This court decided cases throughout the United States that arose from temporary legislation enacted by Congress to facilitate the war effort.) Maris served the temporary court as needed for the next twenty years and eventually became its chief judge. His work on this court broadened his interest in the crafting of legislation and the codification of laws. This interest led to an appointment as chairman of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Revision of the Laws in 1944.

His committee spearheaded the much-needed recodifications of the U.S. Criminal and Judicial Codes in 1947 and 1948. As committee chairman, he oversaw the ongoing revision and modernization of civil, criminal, bankruptcy, and appellate rules of procedure until 1967, when he stepped down. Even the modest Maris admitted that the adoption of his committee's work in 1947 and 1948 was a milestone in the improvement of judicial administration.

In the early 1950s, Maris began to cultivate an interest in international law. Shortly after World War II, the U.S. interior department asked Maris to study the legal and judicial systems of the islands and trust territories of the South Pacific. He did, and he made recommendations that were well received at home and abroad. Throughout the 1950s, he worked tirelessly with the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and American Samoa to draft and enact legislation creating and revising their court systems and procedures. In conjunction with his international work, he served as a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee on International Rules of Judicial Procedure from 1959 to 1963, and as a member of the Advisory Committee to the secretary of state on Private International Law from 1964 to 1967.

Maris took senior (or semiretired) status on December 31, 1958. As a senior judge, he served as special master under appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court in a number of significant and complex cases—including land and water claims cases between states and between states and the federal government (see, e.g., Wisconsin v. Illinois, 388 U.S. 426, 87 S. Ct. 1774, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1290 [1967]; United States v. Maine, 420 U.S. 515, 95 S. Ct. 1155, 43 L. Ed. 2d 363 [1975]). He continued to hear and rule on almost one hundred cases a year for the next twenty-five years.

"To permit public officers to determine whether the views of individuals sincerely held and their acts sincerely undertaken on religious grounds are in fact based on conviction religious in character would be to sound the death knell of religious liberty."
—Albert Maris

Maris died on February 7, 1989, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.